Birmingham’s own Nowhere Squares are punk rock. Or maybe they’re nerd rock. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both – a unique part of the Magic City’s long DIY rock and roll history. In the summer of 2017, cancer claimed the life of the band’s longtime drummer, Spencer Shoults. Their next step was unclear then; to carry on in “Spin’s” memory with a new band member or to end it after last year’s Sloss Fest appearance.
In October, the band released All Messed Up & Nowhere to Go, their first release without Shoults. Veteran Birmingham drummer Mikey Williams stepped in to play drums, and the band soldiered on with a collection of seven new, intense tracks. Lead singer Paul Wilm recently spoke about the decision to continue on, Birmingham’s punk scene and how his band fits within it.
Were there reservations about carrying on after Spencer passed?
Spencer had cancer for a few years before he passed away and it really was something that all of us thought we would look back on and laughingly say to each other “Remember when Spin had cancer?!” So when it grew suddenly aggressive (entering his spinal column), it took all of us by surprise. Things went from bad to worse in the span of a week. The week before that, we thought he was just going through a bad period that he’d get over. We were scheduled to play Slossfest and asked Mikey to play drums just for that festival, thinking Spin would be up and about in a week or two.
How did you and Mikey come together and how natural has that fit been?
So, a week before Slossfest, Spin’s health spiraled down and he was suddenly gone. It was a horrific shock. Mikey played the festival with us and we made the performance a tribute to Spin, wearing “Ride The Lightning” shirts (a phrase he repeatedly used on hand-made T-shirts). After all that, I called Justin (Cordes, guitars and vocals) and asked if he just wanted to end it and he said Spin would’ve wanted us to carry on, so we asked Mikey to join and he accepted. It was a very odd way for him to join, but since we’d already practiced and played one show with him, the transition was a lot more seamless, especially since he’d been part of the sudden, emotional journey we experienced with losing our dear friend. Mikey is the best fit we could’ve wished for. It’s perfect.
You guys left Step Pepper for a new label. How did this record land on Earth Libraries?
We put out 4 stand-alone singles (cassettes and digital) on Step Pepper, then a live album and a “greatest hits” album. The Cavemen We Become was our last album with Spin and our last on Step Pepper. They decided they wanted to concentrate more on their electronic artists, since that’s primarily the genre that they focus on. We’re now on Earth Libraries, a newer Birmingham label that’s a better fit because they concentrate more on rock bands. So our new one, All Messed Up & Nowhere To Go is our first without Spin, our first with Mikey and our first on Earth Libaries. Wes Reid joined us on keyboards this autumn, too. It’s the beginning of a brand new era for us.
This city has a long history of punk rock, but maybe not of your self-described nerd rock. Where do you guys fit into that punk community?
It’s funny. I don’t think we’ve ever fit in to any sort of community, and that’s kind of been our inspiration and strength all along. We’ll go through periods where we make pals with other bands and sometimes those friendships are lasting ones. But in general, we’ve always (rather unintentionally) never really been a part of any scene in this city. It sort of gives our name a new meaning when you think of it that way!
Do you want to deliver a message or are you more interested in delivering a good time?
Our message has always more or less embraced the idea of accepting one’s self despite the inclination that no one else around you is accepting you. Lyric-wise I concentrate on feelings of insecurity and peer rejection because it’s really a universal dilemma that people have to deal with daily. I like the idea that our music is not only fun and intense, but it’s also therapeutic and a form of social catharsis.
Nowhere Squares next play the Magic City at The Nick on December 29. Pinky Doodle Poodle, Seven Year Witch and KinZie are also on the bill. Get ‘All Messed Up & Nowhere to Go’ at nowheresquares.bandcamp.com.